Takaki Tohno Can’t Hear the Sea


Couple days ago, I finally got to watch the Studio Ghibli work from Tomomi Mochizuki.

Ocean Waves, I Can Hear the Sea, Umi ga Kikoeru, whatever–it was an unremarkable piece that still carried the signature mix of subtlety and dramatic tension that I love about this kind of slice of life anime. Considering its vintage I would have expected something a little bit more mainstream, or something even slower, but I guess that’s what happens when you take some of the younger talents (at least back then) and give them a shot at something significant.

But it was delightful, it was something that makes you think. While the narrative was relatively brisk and overall short (and it may feel short), at the same time it avoids getting too melodramatic and remained fairly fresh over its entire course. What’s unusual about this piece as a Ghibli work is that unlike most of its other works, Ocean Waves goes off in the meta rather than on its surface. There’s a perception of depth interplaying with memories of the past. The passage of time is something that is hard to get across in a short work and I think Ocean Waves needed its audience’s help on that. The lack of moving camera shots and the properly-slowed tempo from a flashback perspective–it all adds up to things we perceive but hard to pin down, and the direction succeeded in adding tension even with such a relaxed, slice-of-life atmosphere. If you can understand the film, you can see how this kind of subtlety leave its mark, in probably in one of the better examples in anime.

When I was watching it I can’t help but to think about Ocean Waves in the context of, well, 5cm. That film was also subtle–but you probably can’t figure it out just by merely seeing and not connect some of the dots together. What was there to be perceived is not just on the screen, but also in a bit of reconstruction in seeing why–thinking between and beyond the lines, so to speak. The film’s discourse at first glance is actually rather plain and “out there” for all to see. Following the monologues and dialogs simply will give you a good idea what it’s trying to say. But to stop there is not getting it–you have to go a step further and get a good idea of what emotions it’s trying to convey. That is why the second story is about a girl who can’t confess her feelings. That is why Akari ran ahead of Takaki in the very beginning, across the incoming train, and asked if they can meet again next spring. It’s not just to highlight the symbolism of crossings (as the ending did just by repeating the setting), but to show you the premise in light of what will (or for someone thinking about 5cm after watching it–what has had) happen.

I think aside from the hidden subtleness and the retrospective construction (although 5cm isn’t a flashback for the most part), there is only one other thing remain shared between 5cm and Ocean Waves. Ocean Waves is the take of a relatively atypical high school romance and 5cm is probably the much more typical take on the same, coming to opposite endings with opposite routes. But despite the material endings of each films, both illustrate the same concept about the distances between people versus the time they spend talking to each other. It’s easier to explain it in Ocean Waves–I think Rikako actually grew more fond of Taku during their period of separation. The lingering regret both shared refined their feelings for each other. On the other hand Yutaka probably spent more time with Rikako but didn’t get anywhere. Or for that matter, Yumi probably did not know Rikako as well as Taku did. Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Both films are gold mines, I tell ya!

One Response to “Takaki Tohno Can’t Hear the Sea”

  • dm

    I’ve always loved the quirky, hesitant syncopation of the background music for Ocean Waves/Umi ga kikoeru. It’s a pity the film wasn’t covered by the Disney/Tokuma deal, and brought over. If I ever revive my Region-2 setup, that will have to be one of the disks I get.

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